There have been some questions that asks things like:

  • Replace a=1, b=2,... Find word with characters having product of 1 million
  • Words with greatest single letter-to-word ratio
  • Longest suffix with atleast 5 known words and so on.....

There are 2 approaches:

  • Use some common sense and logic, and a lot of trial and error to manually get results.
  • Write a customized program that scans a dictionary and gives results.

I'm not too great a fan of option 1, and option 2 seems off-topic to this site. Eventually it is the computer who is going to get the best results.

Also, it is quite easy to create such puzzles. (I could post 20 such puzzles in 2-3 hour's time, if I feel like) I don't know to what extent they actually add to the site's quality content.

Questions on Puzzling SE should help in the following 3 ways:

  • Help the OP get an answer or understand a concept - The OP is just doing it to earn some rep. Once a few days have passed, there is no knowledge to be gained from a random list of words.
  • Entertain other puzzlers - This is probably the only thing it actually does. As I said, such puzzles can be mass-produced even by amateurs and don't exactly deserve much rep (in my opinion)
  • Provide future reference - I don't think anyone is going to end up googling an exact same question as one existing here, and end up finding it.

Basically, there are 3 options to consider:

  • Let them remain on the site - Okay, if you want to leave them alone, then do so. Unless you have a strong argument for it, I think I'll just down-vote these posts.
  • Make them off-topic - That is fine by me. It is just that there seem to be people who like these puzzles, and I don't want to spoil the site for them.
  • Ask answerers to tell us the logic they used to get the answer also - This seems to be the best way of making these puzzles actually 'informative'. Ask the answerers to give some hints on how they figured it out. Maybe they used some common prefixes, or omitted rare letters, or something like that.

P.S. I hope I have not been too harsh about it.

  • $\begingroup$ A good reference question. If you see an answer that blatantly lacks any explanation, please flag it, and please avoid upvoting. Answers without explanations just aren't helpful. $\endgroup$ – user20 Mar 19 '15 at 6:42

If some people are enjoying them, then I wouldn't want to spoil their puzzle-related fun.

If we had a specific tag for this type of question then it would be easy for those of us who aren't really interested to add that tag to our ignore lists.

  • $\begingroup$ Okay, fine. Thanks for answering. You have the rep to create the tag, you can do so. $\endgroup$ – ghosts_in_the_code Mar 19 '15 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ @ghosts_in_the_code, no worries. I'm not sure what the tag should be... suggestions? $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 19 '15 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure either, maybe 'special-word-hunting' or 'brute-force' or something. Maybe we can wait for someone else to come up with a better suggestion. $\endgroup$ – ghosts_in_the_code Mar 19 '15 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ 'dictionary-attacks'? 'automated-solving'? $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 19 '15 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Your choice, I'm not an expert at anything to do with meta. $\endgroup$ – ghosts_in_the_code Mar 19 '15 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ I'd rather the tag name not encourage computer brute forcing, since that approach nullifies the puzzling element. $\endgroup$ – xnor Mar 19 '15 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I buy the "if people are enjoying it, it's good" argument. Just because they're fun questions doesn't make them good questions, and doesn't mean we should keep them around. It's just not strong enough of an argument. This is similar to the argument for 'subjective' questions on Stack Overflow - sure people enjoy them, but they're counter to the purpose of the site. $\endgroup$ – user20 Mar 20 '15 at 4:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul, conversely, I don't buy the "I don't like this kind of puzzle so it should be off-topic for everyone" argument. I guess I'm in favour of including by default anything that even some people term a puzzle, in the absence of an argument for exclusion. Because the definition of a "puzzle" is pretty vague anyway, so trying to exclude this or that as 'not a puzzle' just seems like an imposition of one's personal preferences on others. $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 20 '15 at 10:10
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    $\begingroup$ Also, "not all questions of this type are are good questions" ≠ "this type of question is not a puzzle". Off-topic is for things that aren't puzzle-related. Bad puzzle questions can simply be downvoted. $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 20 '15 at 10:14
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    $\begingroup$ @AE I'm rather confused. RPG.SE doesn't allow all role-playing games questions; Stack Overflow doesn't allow all programming questions; Super User doesn't allow all hardware questions; Cooking doesn't allow all food-related questions... they've taken the questions which are least helpful and have made them off-topic. I never said I didn't like these puzzles, merely that they may not be very high quality ones, and that it may be worth figuring out how to handle them better - or not at all. $\endgroup$ – user20 Mar 20 '15 at 15:51
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    $\begingroup$ @Emrakul - presumably the people who seem to enjoy them (not me) don't agree with your subjective opinion that this whole type of puzzle is "not very high quality". (I'm having trouble understanding how believing that something is poor quality differs from disliking it). It's exactly the same "I don't enjoy doing this so no-one else should be allowed to do it" argument that was made against riddles. I don't see RPG.SE saying "no games with wizards, they're not high quality", and I don't see cooking.SE saying "no questions about frying, it's not high quality". $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 20 '15 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ Barring a particular topic merely because some users dislike it is not normal practise anywhere on the SE network, is it? Surely not. $\endgroup$ – A E Mar 20 '15 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @AE If you have a bit of time, I'd be happy to discuss further in chat. $\endgroup$ – user20 Mar 20 '15 at 16:17

I just noticed this question after proposing a new tag for puzzles that need programming skills, so I thought I'd post an answer here to tie the two together.



The OP has asked a question, where there is an objective criterion which determines whether a candidate answer indeed answers the question. What is pertinent is the answers that answer the question, not how anyone found those answers.

Eventually it is the computer who is going to get the best results.

Not necessarily, but if it is, then it is not the computer itself that gets the results, but the person who designed an algorithm and implemented it in software. There is certainly skill and knowledge involved in doing that (not least, in debugging the program). And some people derive fun from that activity.

What's more, more brainwork and time are needed to design, implement and debug a program than to run it in order to find the answers to a specific OP. Someone who answers the OP now has a useful tool for researching a broader range of questions.

I admit that some questions which are amenable to the use of a computer might be considered bad by some people. But the mere fact of their being amenable to the use of a computer doesn't make them bad. The three examples in the OP are just the sort of questions whose answers are published in Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics, which shows that there is interest in such questions.


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